Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about online attacks

April 1, 2009

Along with many others in the crisis and reputation management business commented on the Motrin ad featuring a mother carrying a baby. Johnson & Johnson quickly pulled the ad and apologized. I used this as an example at the recent Ragan/PRSA conference relating to the hair trigger outrage that seems to characterize so much of the conversation on the internet–something I’ve been calling “toxic talk.”

This article in Advertising Age suggests that companies involved in this kind of viral outrage need not be overly concerned. For one thing, the internet and the conversation doesn’t impact everyone–90% of consumer hadn’t seen the ad (probably more did because of the controversy–which could be a good thing considering that most people really liked it). It’s also interesting that the research showed that while some didn’t like the ad, a small percentage saw the ad as negatively impacting their impression of the company.

What does this mean Social media and “toxic talk” doesn’t matter. Hardly. But it does caution PR folks to be careful about over reacting. It also shows that the controversy online can be beneficial in pure awareness level (say anything you want but make sure you spell my name right school of PR), and that just because a few take umbrage does not mean that the entire world is offended. Did J&J do the right thing to pull the ad? Probably, but those under attack should take comfort from knowing that most people out there, even on the internet are pretty reasonable. What it does show more than anything is that you better be paying attention to what they are saying–both the outraged ones and the rest of us.

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4 Responses to “Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about online attacks”

  1. Shel Holtz Says:

    I think AdAge has it wrong. While few people saw the ad (even though it’s still available on YouTube, where it has had about 260,000 views), it led to coverage in several mainstream publications from USA Today to the Chicago Tribune to the Globe and Mail to The Wall Street Journal, and spawned a Facebook boycott group. (Ask HSBC if Facebook protest groups can have any influence.) People don’t NEED to have seen the source material to get caught up in the outrage. Realizing you have offended a core market segment is not necessarily an overreaction.


  2. […] online reputation, social media While surfing around the blogosphere I came across a post by Crisisblogger Gerald Baron  about “toxic talk” in social media and whether its effects should be taken as […]

  3. nachapman Says:

    I agree with Shel, which echoed his comments on FIR of April 2. How something is first framed in the media or in how someone first encounters an issue is important. They are likely to be swayed by the consensus view that has formed or is forming.
    If a bandwagon is rolling, it’s easier to be running in the same direction to join it. So it’s not always the best thing to ignore ‘toxic talk’. It does carry weight.


  4. […] up for discussion was Crisisblogger’s post about online attacks not mattering so much in light of a piece in AdAge. The results of a survey […]


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